Sat, Sep 15, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Johnny Neihu's NewsWatch: Journalism in the Twilight Zone

By Johnny Neihu

There I was the other day, wandering about Datong District (大同) and reminiscing about my misspent youth hanging out with the GIs that used to be stationed in Taiwan (you didn't think I learned my colorful language at Hess, did you?), when I recalled a shoddy piece of work about my beloved homeland from Reuters on Sept. 5.

A whole tome was devoted to pushing the oft-spouted pan-blue myth that Taiwan's economy is about as healthy as Order of the Scarlet Thumb figurehead Shih Ming-teh (施明德) and on the verge of collapse.

It was titled "Taipei economy sags as foreigners leave for China," and came across the wires with the suitably theatrical sub-heading of "Taiwan -- flatline," as if to say that emergency room doctors are juicing up the defibrillators to jump-start our faltering economy and save us from financial ruin.

It starts off by painting a gloomier picture than Edvard Munch's Scream: empty hotel rooms, empty language schools, before going on to talk about city bars devoid of foreign patrons.

But a little research reveals that the empty bars the author talks about are located in my old stamping ground -- The Combat Zone -- so christened by America's finest who used to trawl the area on their night off for a little nocturnal exercise, if you know what I mean.

Reuters' man in Taiwan has obviously not been around for too long, as anyone who has frequented the zone over the years would know that things haven't been the same since the late 1970s when the peanut seller decided to sell out Son of Peanut and Uncle Sam started shipping my buddies back home.

The zone has been in terminal decline ever since.

The advent of bar culture and urban sprawl also helped to spell the end for the zone as Taipei's center of alcohol-fueled shagging shifted southeast. Besides, who can blame Taipei's current crop of expats and pretty young things for not wanting to drink in the zone's bars -- most of which haven't seen a lick of paint since the Ming Dynasty and are filled with crusty 50-something skanks looking for someone to buy them a NT$1,000 glass of Vitali.

"People who invest in China, we don't see them here anymore," bar owner Chang Hui-lan was quoted as saying. "A lot of them have taken up residence in China."

How surprising. People who invest in China tend to live there and don't return to Taiwan on a weekend for a few bottles of Gold Label Taiwan Beer.

Next up, our intrepid reporter charts the downfall of the domestic tourism industry.

"The stagnation of its tourism industry has generated grassroots criticism of the Taiwan government."

Which tourism industry is this? The last time a bunch of middle-aged, Hawaiian-shirted Americans was seen wandering around Taipei with cameras they were on clandestine CIA business. The majority of Western tourists who actually do land here are often taken by surprise: "Shit, I thought the travel agent said Thailand."

Taiwan has never been a tourist Mecca in the same sense as say, everywhere else in Asia, despite a number of good quality beaches and captivating mountain scenery.

The reasons for this are numerous and have nothing to do with China's rise. First was the small matter of 38 years of martial law. Then you had beaches liberally scattered with mines or anti-amphibious landing equipment which made them resemble the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan.

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